Sexism is Not an Atheist Problem

The stuff of American feminist nightmares...
I respect PZ Myers as a prominent figure in the atheist activist community, however, even the best make mistakes.  In a recent blog, and as I understand it, he implies there is an inherent sexism in the atheist community.  This I can see, considering there is sexism in nearly all communities, including feminism itself.  However, to say that atheism has a sexism "problem", seems to ignore the definition of what an atheist is.

I make sexist jokes, sure, provided that I can asses that present company can understand that it's just a joke.  Who doesn't like a good kitchen joke once in a while.  If anything, I see it as poking fun at the absurdity of sexism itself and not women.  I may be guilty of assuming my friends are all intelligent enough to see it that way, of course.

Atheism is nothing more than lacking deistic belief.  Since it's not a religion and doesn't follow a dogma, atheism certainly make no claims regarding the equality or superiority of one gender over another.  Any atheists who do make such claims are only guilty of sexism on their own individual accord.  This is why when I see the argument made that we should criticize ourselves with the same scrutiny we apply to religious establishments, I can only shake my head.  We have no 1 Timothy 2:12.

Neither is sexism a feminist problem (other than as a problem they face, of course).  By this,I mean they don't own the monopoly on addressing sexism (there is more than one sex, after all). Every group has their extremists, and there are some feminists that seek female superiority, albeit I've only known them to be a minority.  Sexism does go both ways after all.  I can't agree that "behind every great man there is a great woman" any more than I could agree with the saying vice versa.

There are also those who simply look for sexism where there is none.  I remember the hubbub about Rebecca Watson being asked out for coffee in an elevator and it getting blown out of proportion.  Wouldn't her fear or being creeped out by a guy politely asking for coffee be sexism on her part, and if not, why not?  Watch the video yourself.  The way she describes the guys approach sounds polite, yet admittedly awkward.  Wouldn't that make pretty much anyone who shyly starts up a conversation with another person of the opposite sex at risk of being guilty of sexism?

Sexism is a social problem apparent in all groups and community, and only more so in those communities that are indoctrinated to believe it's the cultural norm.  Perhaps PZ only meant the blog title entry to merely be an "attention grabber"?

Additionally, he mentioned a bonus question he proposed to his students asking to name one female scientist.  Isn't that sexist itself?  Most of his students either didn't answer or wrote down Madame Currie.  The first name that came to my head, after thinking for a minute or two, was Jane Goodall.  My stalling wasn't evidence of sexism, but rather the opposite.  I never bothered to think of the gender of scientists -- as it simply doesn't matter.  I don't think of Tyson as "Neil, the male scientist", so why would I think of Goodall as "Jane the female scientist"?  Wouldn't actively considering someones gender as relevant to their work in science actually be sexist?

Yes, PZ, I agree with you most of the time -- just not this time.  As I understand it, feminism is about giving women the same respect as men, not about calling out people and communities you think might possibly be  chauvinist.  Yes, there is sexism in the atheist community, as with any community, but it's regardless of the atheism of the community.

Sexism is a problem in general, it's just not an atheist problem.

1 comment:

  1. This issue hinges on a key question: do we care if the community of atheists is gender diverse and inclusive?

    If the answer is 'yes', and we see that there is underrepresentation of women currently, we have to ask 'why'. Women are telling us that part of the problem is sexism. If lack of diversity is a problem for the atheist community, and sexism is part of the explanation for why that lack of diversity exists, then by the transitive property, sexism is a problem for the atheism community.

    If the answer is 'no', then by all means let's ignore the problem, but at least have the decency to be honest about it.